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Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show - Interview with Harry Davis

by Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show on 1 Nov 2011
Harry Davis .
Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show 2012 is being held from 24th to 27th May 2011. There will be an assortment of attractions for every age group and interest.

Harry Davis has a 23 year history with the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show. He is such a ubiquitous presence at the event that he blends in with the scenery and perhaps, many have come to take him for granted.

It’s not until you pin him down and convince him to speak about his contribution to the show, on board since day one, as well as the many other facets of this enigmatic character, that you realise, if not the backbone of the show, Harry is its heart and soul.

In his own words, Harry is 'low key, not slick'. The former school teacher from Adelaide credits his longevity in the business to his organisational skills and stamina.

'I try to be thorough and work through a list ‘til it’s done,' he says with typical understatement. 'I believe honesty is the number one priority for exhibitors – you have to be true to your word and make every effort to do what you say you will. That way, you build up a certain level of trust that is important for an event like the boat show.'

Harry and the boat show were united by luck, chance, expertise in sailing and the entrepreneur Tony Cochrane, the visionary who lured Frank Sinatra to headline the 'Ultimate Event' to mark the opening of Sanctuary Cove in 1988.

As Harry recounts: 'Tony wanted to fill the marina with boats for a ‘boat show’ during the opening. My wife, Marilyn had been involved in the events business in Adelaide as well as organising all the sporting events at the Ultimate Event. I was running an AYF accredited sailing school in Adelaide, establishing a boat syndication business, and had built a few sailing yachts over the years. So we were qualified, but in an odd way.

'We took up the chance, moved to the Gold Coast in January 1989 and had four months to pull this new event together.'

With the same tenacity and focus he is renowned for today, Harry managed to attract 104 boats to the marina. During its 23 years, the record number of boats on the marina was 454.

The response to that inaugural show was 'phenomenal', according to Harry.

'We were bowled over by people’s enthusiasm for the venue and the event,' he says, adding that in that first year, he had only an inkling of the potential of the show.

'Even though right back in the beginning we said that to have legs, the show had to become international in scope and stature, we couldn’t have imagined that happening the way it has. I looked at my original proposal the other day and saw that I had written that the event would eventually become an international ‘must attend’ on the boat show calendar. I must have had the seed of that idea, even then.'

It was in those early days that Harry, Marilyn and the exuberant Barry Jenkins, who at that time was managing the Marine Village restaurant and entertainment scene, became known in the Aussie vernacular as 'Hazza, Mazza and Bazza'.

While Barry might be the international Ambassador and very high profile champion of the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show, Harry is content to work away in the background, part of the boat show team dedicated all year round to creating a world-class event to promote the marine industry and the leisure boating lifestyle.

It’s this attribute that has allowed him to 'get the job done' over 23 years and which has won him the trust of exhibitors from all round the country, and the world.

'As the point of contact for exhibitors, I have to keep them happy, or at least satisfied. That means we have to in tune with their needs and their concerns to make sure they will be keen to come back the next year. Fortunately we have a very low attrition rate.'

The main appeal of the event, according to Harry, is the unique venue – a marine lifestyle community based around a thriving marina and village – the opportunity to catch up with distributors and customers, as well as the chance to network and make sales in a very pleasant environment.

'The show has tremendous appeal,' explains Harry. 'Exhibitors tell me they just love being here. They like the show hours – which are 9 to 5 – they love the socialising and the fact that the show attracts people they want to talk to.'

Much is made of the 'quality, over quantity' equation by boat shows the world over. But in the case of Sanctuary Cove, says Harry, it’s the truth.

'Our show is not in a major city – people have to travel to get here. It’s not just a day out, but people who are serious about boating, business and buying come here. It does sort the buyers from the day-trippers in that respect.'

The real challenge is producing an enhanced experience for visitors every year and also the optimal environment for exhibitors to showcase their brands and products.

And while additions to the show program may range from fashion shows and ladies’ lunches, chef cooking contests and the occasional celebrity or Olympic athlete appearance, Harry says it’s vital to 'stay focused on marine'.

'The Gold Coast is acknowledged as the country’s main recreational marine hub, so we have very strong support from the local industry. We try to introduce new ideas each year, and the international focus has been growing since the 90s, but our main theme is ‘marine business’.'

There is a core team which works year round on the show. Once the bump out and cleaning up have taken place, the boat show team slims its ranks to comprise Harry, Sue Thomson, General Manager Events and Marketing, Phil Shaw, Events and Operations Manager, Barry Jenkins and admin expert, Shannon Brice.

'We work full-time on the boat show after a break. We start planning for the next show before the books are closed on the previous one.'

One month prior to show time, contractors begin working on the set up and during the event, there are literally hundreds involved in security, traffic control, logistics and volunteering.

'It’s an expensive show to run, because most of the infrastructure on land has to be built each year,' Harry explains. 'We are lucky that we have eight or so contractors who have been running the bump-in with us for up to 20 years, and they take leave from their jobs for a couple of weeks to work with us. They know the drill and are easy to get along with. Our main concern is to keep the costs down and charges to exhibitors to a minimum.'

In his spare time, Harry indulges his artistic inclinations, specialising in boat portraits and marine scenes, and even entering a self-portrait in the 2010 Archibald Prize. Some of his fine work can be seen on display in the window of the chandlery in Quay St at Sanctuary Cove.

'I have always been doodling, drawing, painting,' says Harry, who would choose to paint draw and create children’s books if he didn’t work on the boat show. 'I do those things on weekends anyway.'

Another passion is fitness, and he joins his incredibly talented wife, Marilyn – a seven time, World Super Seniors Tennis player about to compete in the World Championships in Turkey – in staying fit. 'I run now for enjoyment, but I am planning to compete once again in the Kurrawa to Duranbah and Back 50km event in December – my favourite low key ultra.'

Next year promises to be more attractive to exhibitors and visitors. While he is not at liberty to reveal any of the innovations in store for 2012, Harry says the new tavern will be a marvellous addition for exhibitors! We can’t be static, we have to evolve and add new attractions so that Gold Coast visitors, Brisbane people and interstate and overseas travellers come back each year.'

As for his opinions of the show, the event he helped establish 23 years ago, Harry admits he is biased.

'Well, of course I think it beats other shows hands down for its beautiful venue – and for a peek at a great lifestyle. But we hear from Chinese trade delegates that our show is considered the benchmark in China and that they are aiming to create a similar fusion of boats and boating lifestyle for the 2000 or so marinas they have on the drawing board. That’s big praise.'

The statistics back it up. According to data from the International Federation of Boat Show Organisers (IFBSO) show, only the China International Boat Show in Shanghai attracts more exhibitors in this Asia-Pacific region.

Now, as the countdown begins to the 24th Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show, Harry is looking forward to handling the requests and requirements of exhibitors, already keen to book space for 2012.

He has no thoughts of retiring and brushes off any notion that his ardour is waning. 'I love it! Besides, I’m just a boy. I’m looking forward to the 25th – we all are.'

As for fanfare about his own role in the founding and evolution of one of the region’s most significant boat shows, Harry says he’s happy if exhibitors are happy.

'I just want to continue going about what I Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show website
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